How Do Australian Art School Grads Feel About the Future?
We interviewed our favourites from "Hatched", an exhibition celebrating the best and brightest graduate artists from around the country.
Gwan Tung Dorothy Lau, "Para Selves 4" 2016
Each year, PICA's Hatched shines a spotlight on Australia's emerging contemporary art talent by showing work from a selection of high-achieving art school graduates from around the country. With artists working across varied mediums presenting the projects they've worked on over the course of their final year of study, it's always one of the most fun shows on Perth's gallery calendar.
If this year's Hatched is anything to go by, the future of Australian contemporary art looks big and bright. Creators caught up with our favourite graduate artists from the show to learn more about what's coming next.
Hannah Gartside, Victorian College of the Arts
On her practice
"I am showing a large suspended textile sculpture called New Terrain, from a series The Fantasies. I work mostly with found materials; things from op-shops, the footpath, my wardrobe, a warehouse in North Coburg with a huge collection of vintage fabric. As I began to realise my grad show work, I was looking for materials that would help me create a seductive dreamland... old pastel coloured slips, stockings, old fifties cotton dresses, ribbons, sheer fabrics of lace and tulle. This sculpture is cut and stitched together using vintage petticoat lace trim and held to the wall with garter belt clips. The psychic effect, or at least my aim, was to convey a lightness and exuberance."
On art school
"The most sustaining part of my art school experience has been the connections with my amazing peers and teachers, and these relationships continue. Studying at VCA has given me technical, conceptual and emotional confidence in my practice. Through an understanding of art history I feel connected to a lineage of artists, like VALIE EXPORT, Louise Bourgeois and Miriam Schapiro— my spiritual grandmothers!"
On next steps in her career
"I have been learning more about the shame many women feel around the way their genitals look (hence the rise of cosmetic labiaplasty), and their low expectations of what constitutes a satisfactory sexual encounter—eg. not feeling physical pain. I am thinking about my personal shames, curiosity and hopes around sex and intimacy. In early June I am attending the Varda Artist Residency program, so I will spend two months living and working on a houseboat in Sausalito, California. I am taking the visual language of ships signal flags as my starting point to create work that addresses these experiences. I think the work will exist as large scale, site-specific, inhabitable textile sculptures, photography and video, to be exhibited in Australia next year."
On the future of Australian contemporary art
"I think the art sector is becoming more about making heart connections, embracing our vulnerabilities, reconsidering our understanding of the natural world, the built environment and our place within it, and giving platforms, space, and money to people who experience life outside of a straight white hegemony. In the face of an America that elected Trump, an Australia where in the last two weeks one attempted murder, and one alleged murder of women by their male partners has occurred, where the average life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is ten years less than white Australians, and where the government still treats refugees inhumanely, it's imperative that we work to dissolve ingrained cultural and class bias and racism, understand and support difference, and lift our work up to the light. This is the future of art to which I am committed."
Dionne Hooyberg, Curtin University
On her honours research project
"The project was an examination of the life and social impact of the late controversial Perth business man Alan Bond. The research project was centered around 1980s Australia and as a result the work is very nostalgic but also tacky and excessive. The work is an installation made up of paintings, sculptures and found objects, including cardboard boxes, souvenir ashtrays, six packs of beer and paintings of AFL players. It questions the power of celebrity and the commodity and examines its impact on identity."
On the art school experience
"I had a very interesting art school experience. I started in 2010 and decided I didn't like it. I moved on to study something else for a few years but eventually returned to finish my undergrad and continued into postgraduate honours.I think that me leaving art school and then returning is quite a common university experience, lots of kids straight out of school don't adjust well to university, I was definitely one of them—but my last few years of art school were great, the Curtin University art school has some of the most talented artists on staff, they are very inspiring."
On the future of her practice
"I had a pretty crazy end to last year and it made me really question what I was doing with my life, whether an arts career was really doable etc. I then started making a body of work about that struggle and it became the work that I exhibited in my solo show, Living Alone and Looking at Memes, earlier this year. I think making work about that struggle, and using humour to work through it, really helped me and I think others in any self driven career relate to that struggle too.I think that's where my practice works best, making work about the stuff that we all can relate to, and trying to make it funny... if I can."
On making it as a young Australian artist
"I'm not usually an optimist when it comes to these thing but I've had a pretty good run since art school so maybe for me the future is looking bright. Or maybe it's just luck!"
Gwan Tung Dorothy Lau, Queensland University of Technology
On the process behind her work
"I am showing three self-portraits from the series Para-Selves in which I digitally juxtapose aggressive and passive versions of myself and construct intimate artificial physical interactions with my doppelgangers....Para-Selves explores the confusion of assessing my authentic identity and an imposed cultural identity constructed by social expectations. Each portrait conveys how my actions oscillate between conforming to and defying the generalisation of the East Asian culture, and how these conflicting representations can paradoxically co-exist."
On leaving art school
"Art school was quite confusing at first but rewarding at last. I was curious and enthusiastic and excited but was feeling a bit lost when I was first introduced to the world of contemporary art. It was my final year when I was starting to gain a better understanding of my practice. I am already missing it! I really enjoyed working and collaborating with my really supportive friends and receiving guidance from staff who were so approachable. It was a very positive environment."
On what's next for her practice
"My practice is immensely connected to my identity as a Hong Kong Australian and the notion of displacement that comes with living in a place that is both familiar and foreign in certain aspects. I am planning to pursue postgraduate studies in Hong Kong and relocate temporarily to see how my exploration on cultural identity would develop once it is removed from a Western context."
On the future of Australian contemporary art
"There is a range of opportunities with Artist Run Initiatives and exciting new projects are popping up. I am hopeful!"
Callum McGrath, Queensland University of Technology
On his work at Hatched
"It's a single channel video work of mine that is six minutes long, titled On the Field (off the field). The work is filmed at Brothers Rugby League Club in suburban Brisbane, and addresses tensions between Australian masculinity and queer culture. The work heavily draws on techniques seen in queer cinema, especially the work of Derek Jarman...The video references my past experience of playing rugby league, as well gay beats and queer cinema, all to help better acknowledge how these are all culturally inherited sites. However a central focus of mine is also understanding how my queer identity is not fixed to this cultural history, instead made up from a complex web of social practices; and how i can make videos to break down these binaries of queer representation."
On leaving art school
"Art school was amazing, and there is no denying that I already miss it. For me it was a really supportive place, but at the same time challenging. I did both my undergraduate and honours year at the Queensland University of Technology. During undergrad the art school was still located in the old H-Block studios, which to be honest were pretty dilapidated. That said there was this complete freedom to experiment and basically do anything. At the start of last year the new art studios opened within a renovated old heritage listed building. So having that for my studio in the final year was amazing. I miss the access to that amazing workshop, and that has been the hardest thing to navigate since graduating. The other thing that I probably didn't take for granted enough during my time was the honest, and sometime brutal feedback and crits that happened. What I have quickly noticed since graduating is that everyone will kiss you on the cheek and tell you that your work is great."
On the next steps for his career
"The future is both exciting and scary! I have been super lucky this year to have had the opportunity to have solo shows at both West Space and FELTspace, as well as be selected for the Hatched exhibition. So after all that, I am really excited to start making some new work again and get back in the studio. It feels like it has been ages since I have properly made new work. I am feeling both ready and anxious to get back into the process of making, which requires a completely different headspace to exhibiting."
On the pros and cons of being an emerging Australian artist
"On the one hand, there are amazing opportunities, and great galleries working really hard to support emerging artists. The ARI scene around Australia, from my experience, is fantastic and really supportive of emerging practices. That said, I think it is also worth noting how hard it is to actually sustain a career as an artist. In recent years there have been massive cuts to arts funding all around Australia and in Queensland it is increasingly difficult. The current arts funding climate makes it harder and less common for projects to be funded properly and artists to be paid for the work they do. The National Association of Visual Artists (NAVA) are doing some amazing work campaigning for fair pay for artists so hopefully in the future that may pay off in making a career as an artist financially sustainable."
Find out more about Callum here and follow him on Instagram
Hatched continues at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art until June 18.